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Canada's coldest temperature ever, let's celebrate it


Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Friday, February 26, 2016, 9:40 AM - Tucked away in Canada's far northwest is Yukon, one of our country's three Arctic territories. Carved out of the Northwest Territories in 1898, this remote land is far from desolate. It boasts sweeping, untouched landscapes, glittering skies and a history that makes it seem larger than life.

Here are five awesome things to know about Yukon.

It hosted Canada's coldest temperature ever

Ever stepped outside into what, for your city, was "record" cold and thought "geez, this is the coldest day EVER"? Yukon laughs at you.

Snag, Yukon, to be precise. The now-defunct village, 465 km northwest of the territorial capital Whitehorse, has the unhappy honor of hosting the coldest temperature ever recorded in Canada: -62.8°C, set on Feb. 3, 1947. Not counting the wind chill.

Fog Moving Over Miner's Range

When temperatures get that low, mercury becomes useless as a thermometer measure, so alcohol is used instead.

It's not only Canada's coldest day, but also the coldest in continental North America. And when it gets that cold, it does weird things to the laws of physics.

Residents' breath froze instantly, falling to the ground as white dust. In the still air, residents could hear dogs barking from kilometres away, and ice cracking on the nearby river sounded like a gunshot.

The new low made the outpost and its handful of inhabitants minor celebrities. We doubt they would have been too celebratory. Most of their alcohol was at the bottom of their thermometers, after all.

The Klondike Gold Rush inspired a continent

Though prospectors had combed the region for decades, it wasn't until 1896 that American George Carmack and two members of the Tagish First Nation, Keish and Káa Goox (also known as Skookum Jim and Dawson Charlie) finally struck gold.

That kind of thing doesn't stay secret, and when word got out of the potential riches to be found it this most remote part of Canada, tens of thousands of people flocked to Yukon.

Prospectors ascending the Chilkoot Pass in a long line
By Cantwell, George G. - Library University Washington; first published in 1900, "The Klondike, a souvenir", Rufus Bucks Publisher, Seattle, 1900 (no page numbers). Digitally altered image to remove caption at lower left (see uploaded version for original)., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17281180

That iconic image up above is the Chilkoot Pass, near the tail end of a harrowing journey to Yukon, first by ship up the Pacific Coast to an Alaskan port, then  through treacherous and poorly developed terrain by land and river. Would-be miners had to make the trip up multiple times, burdened with heavy loads, to satisfy the one year's worth of supplies required by the North West Mounted Police as a condition for entry.

Though life was difficult, and the winters harsh, the Klondike's population swelled to some 30,000 hopeful souls and hangers-on, with some 16,000 living in Dawson City. To put that into perspective, the territory's entire present-day population is barely more than 30,000, with the benefit of better services and easier access than the miners every enjoyed.

In many ways, the gold rush is the specific reason there even IS a Yukon. At the start of the rush, it was only a district of the Northwest Territories, but by 1898, it was hived off as its own territory, with Dawson City as the capital. 

View of Klondike City and Dawson City, 1899. Yukon River left and Klondike River at upper right
By Curtis, Asahel, 1874-1941 - University Library Washington. Basic search shows no evidence of publication prior to 2003., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16097488

But as with all things, the boom ended eventually. After digging around $30 million in gold (in 1890s dollars), things wound down into the 20th Century, such that Dawson City's population crashed so far it didn't technically qualify as a "city" any longer (2011 population: 1,300), being eclipsed as capital by Whitehorse decades later.

Still, the short boom years left a permanent mark on North America's culture, inspiring enduring literary works by such as Robert Service and Jack London. The dark side: As more immigrants from southern areas poured in, the more local First Nations were marginalized.

The Yukon Quest sled dog race is epic

Yukon is thoroughly in the modern era, but if you've a hankering for old-time sled dog travel through hard terrain in the dead of winter, the Yukon Quest might be your bag.

Seven blue eyes...

Properly known as the International Sled Dog Race, it's an epic trek of 1,000 miles (1,600 km) from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Whitehorse, Yukon.

In February. The dead of the Arctic winter. Needless to say it's not for the faint of heart.

It actually has its roots in the Klondike Gold rush, with mushers following historical routes that once linked the Yukon goldfields with those in the Alaskan interior, but the first modern race wasn't until 1984, when 20 teams set out from Fairbanks. Six were forced to drop out along the way, and the winner made the journey in a mere 12 days.

It is, as you can imagine, not an easy jaunt. Aside from freezing temperatures (dipping down to -40oC at times) and difficult terrain, this year's race was marked by stranded mushers, wicked blizzards and ornery wildlife, according to the Guardian.

And with only nine checkpoints along the way, you'd better be sure you and your dog team are ready. Vets check and recheck the dogs, and mushers can leave struggling, injured or sick ones at a checkpoint, but they must cross the finish line with at least six dogs.

Despite all of this, the mushers keep coming back time after time. The record for fastest completion was set just in 2014: Allen Moore made it in 8 days, 14 hours and 21 minutes.

And although the journey is long, both mushers and visitors to Yukon will find a bit of an upside to the terrain....

Yukon is unbelievably beautiful

It's not hard to see why Robert Service was so inspired by Yukon's largely empty wilderness.

Mount Logan.jpg
By Gerald Holdsworth - From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration[1]...full jpeg at [2], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1714943

That majestic peak up there is Mount Logan. If you're looking to stand in the shadow of Canada's tallest mountain, there it is in Yukon. In terms of height, it's surpassed only by Denali in Alaska.

It's located in Kluane National Park and Reserve, one of three national parks in the territory, to say nothing of Yukon's eight territorial parks.

Also, North America's third longest river, the Yukon River, flows through the territory into Alaska. If it were contained entirely within Canada, it would be our country's second-longest, second only to its Arctic neighbour, the Mackenzie.

Dawson City Lookout Yukon River 3264px.jpg
By Photo by and (c)2006 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) - Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1075194

All told, there's plenty to see and do in Yukon.

Outdoor expeditions, tours of Yukon's heritage places like the old goldfields, museums, fishing, First Nations culture, even surreal places like the Signpost Forest at Watson Lake, started in the 40s by a U.S. Army soldier who posted a sign to his hometown, prompting others to follow suit.

Florida to Alaska on Bicycle (#116) August 14, 1997: Sign Post Forrest

Not to mention, of course, the incredible seasonal swings. Though the winters are famously cold, the average daytime highs in the summer are in the high teens and low 20s in Whitehorse, and you can be among the very few Canadians who have experienced the midnight sun, and its dark counterpart in winter.

Actually, speaking of Yukon's winter skies.....

Yukon is aurora country

When charged particles from the sun hit our atmosphere, the resulting aurora borealis is most visible in higher latitudes, like the Arctic.

Yukon occupies just one corner of the amount of Canadian real estate that's north of 60, so that's yet one more reason to head up there, on top of everything else.

Some of The Weather Network's viewers have already visited, or otherwise live there. Here's the best selection of the shots they sent in to us. Enjoy!

Peter Toth, Whitehorse

James Younger, Dawson City

Carrie, Whitehorse

Yasushi Tanikado, Whitehorse

Stefan Wackerhagen, Whitehorse

SOURCE: National Post | Canadian Encyclopedia | The Guardian | Yukon Quest

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